Youtube has to be one of the best things about the internet, giving free access to film and sound recordings from all over the world, both current and historical, and enabling serendipitous discovery of cultural treasures. From time to time I like to trawl youtube using random search terms and when looking recently for some information on Romanian Jewish music I chanced upon several recordings by the singer Dorel Livianu.
I have written about Jewish music from Romania before, but Livianu was new to me. Born in Bucharest in 1907 he was something of a child prodigy playing the part of the little trumpet boy in Verdi's Aida at just 7 years of age. He went on to study with Massini at the Bucharest Music Conservatory before being snapped up by Columbia Records and His Master's Voice (HMV). There is a rich archive of his many recordings - the Dorel Livianu Virtual Museum of Audio Recordings also accessible on youtube by searching under his name. I particularly like this recording of Ce face asta sear tu? (What are you doing tonight?), a romantic, tango influenced song recorded in the 1930's in Romanian (you can here it by clicking on the embedded file above). The interplay of the violins with the other instruments and Livianu's phrasing take the listener back to a more elegant time, but one which was drawing to a terrible close.
Although enjoying success in the 1930's with a number of recordings, he was restricted to performing at Bucharest's Jewish Theatre Barasheum (later the Jewish State Theatre) during the war years when Jewish artists were debarred from other theatres. Things deteriorated further for Livianu when he was deported to a camp in Transnistria for a period of eight months and where he survived due to his fame. Transnistria is a little known part of Europe but one to where more than 130,000 Romanian Jews were deported during the Second World War. The vast majority were either murdered or died due to the appalling conditions whilst the same fate befell man thousands of the Ukrainian Jews who lived there.
Livianu appears to have been more fortunate than many as his wife, Mella Silberstein who he married in 1939 also survived and together they had a child, David Bogdan, born in 1955. After the war, he spent time in both Israel and the United States, but his heart appears to have remained in Romania, hence the creation of the vocal archive which includes recordings in both Yiddish and Romanian. His repertoire was wide and included pop and folk music, tango, foxtrot and romanta - a Romanian genre sung in a poetic or sentimental mood, often to piano and guitar. Another Romanian singer, Marin Teodersecu, known as Zavaidoc, made this form popular between the First and Second World War.
Livianu also recorded a version of the famous yiddish song Romania Romania. This is one of the most widely known yiddish popular songs of the period. You can read more about the song and its history here, as well as hearing some other versions of it. He guested on several top US radio shows, eventually settling there in 1967. The man Colombia Records labelled the golden voice of Romania died in 1997, aged 89.